- Acting of Lead Performers
- Acting of Supporting Cast
- Music Score
- Title Sequence
- Historical Importance
- Would You Recommend?
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TCM movie version of Showboat (1929)
- Jack Werner
I just watched (November 19,2013) the Loving the Classics release of the 1929 version of Showboat. Being a banjo player I was aware that it followed the plot of the Edna Ferber book (1926) of the same name which it did. For instance Capt. Hawks dies in the Mississippi River in a storm and Magnolia is correctly played as a banjo player who "sings old time negro melodies learned on her fathers showboat." (She plays guitar in the 1936 version which is unquestionably a better movie. All the later versions are poor representations) Unfortunately due to nitrate decomposition there is a good 15 minutes of missing sound of Laura Laplante making the audience "weep" as she plays her banjo and sings songs. The film is obviously from Turner Classic Movies film vault and it is not their fault they have a copy that has problems. What really needs be done is the earth should be scoured for a good copy and the film given a good restoration like the work the Vitaphone Project has done for the MGM Vitaphone shorts. Easy to say as I am not paying for it. Looking around on youtube I found some film footage of Aunt Jemimah singing with the original Zigfeld Broadway cast. Properly restored the movie would play much better and be a lot easier to watch. It deserves better treatment rather than remain a partially "lost" film. The film music is characteristic of the late 20's which is also another interesting difference from the later versions.
Where's Kern's music?
It's startling how little of Kern's music made it into the movie, even as background. There's some classical snippets (Tchaikovsky, I think) and some generic silent movie-type themes, but so many scenes would have benefited from the Kern melodies. There's a selection of Kern's music and Hammerstein's lyrics during the opening "overture" but during the film there's just a little bit of "Old Man River" here and there. No "Make Believe" "Can't Help Loving that Man," or even "Misery's Coming Round" which could be the theme of the entire movie. I'm glad I saw it for its historical significance but there are a lot of missed opportunities here. Maybe TCM could re-score it for us, and would do a fine job, I'm sure.
First Film Verions of Ferber Classic
- Paul Frobose
Filmed in 1928 as a silent, this production by Universal was withheld from its projected release and some songs from the stageplay were added along with selected bits of dialogue. The results were far from satisfactory, but the film is noteworthy for its high production values and excellent location photography. Filmed on the Sacramento River (not the Mississippi), the director utilized several working riverboats decorated with 19th century gingerbread and billowing smoke from false smokestacks. The costumes were excellent, and the many locals hired as extras were used convincingly. Director Harry Pollard may not have been the best choice for this vehicle, but he manages to capture scenes of river life and does an effective job in creating the laconic Southern atmosphere. The decision to add the dialogue and soundtrack rather than scrap to whole production gives this film the rare disctinction of being a "part-talkie." But putting the major musical numbers strung together in the extended prologue underscores the patch-work nature of the soundtrack, and the pasted-together feeling of the film. Joseph Schildkraut looks like a cad, but fails to be convincing as the gambler Gaylord Ravenal. Laura La Plante uses her limited thespian talents to modest success, but it is the tragic Alma Ruebens who is most moving as Julie. Despite its flaws, the film has merit, and should be viewed for both its importance as the earliest filmed musical, and because of its fine cinematography. The river scenes are much more prominent in this production than in the two later remakes (1936, 1951). It is easy to tell that Allan Jones and Howard Keel are both on studio sets in these later vehicles. The extensive use of location photography and the authentic riverboats in Pollard's production easily surpass niversal's 1936 remake, and the technicolor 1951 MGM version.